Specific Phobia

Recognizing Specific Phobia

Are you afraid to fly? Do needles make you nervous? Do you avoid dental appointments, elevators or contact with spiders because you are scared? If so, you may have a phobia.

What is Phobia?

Phobias are intense, persistent fears about specific places, situations or things. Phobias can make it hard for you to go to places you would like to go or do things you would like to do. This is because people with specific phobias will do whatever they can to avoid the uncomfortable and often terrifying feelings that occur when faced with their phobia. If you have a phobia, you are not alone.

There are 5 different categories of phobias:

  • Animal (e.g. fear of spiders, snakes, dogs)
  • Natural environment (e.g. fear of heights, fear of lightning and thunderstorms)
  • Blood-injection injury (e.g. fear of medical procedures including injections, fear of needles, fear of blood)
  • Situational (e.g. fear of confined spaces, fear of the dark)
  • Other (e.g. fear of vomiting, choking, illness)

Often individuals have multiple phobias.

How do People with a Phobia Typically React?

If you have a phobia, you may feel a wide range of intense emotions, from mild anxiety to very severe panic and terror when confronted with your phobia. In more severe cases, you may even feel that you are going mad, losing control, or are about to die when facing the feared object or situation. The fear can be expressed physically by an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, feeling faint, nausea, feeling of choking, and/or increased blood pressure. Some people will even have a full-blown panic attack (click here to read more about panic attacks) when they are confronted with their phobia. Most of all, you will feel an overpowering urge to 'escape' from the very thing you fear.

Avoidance is the most common reaction. In the short ­term avoidance works because when you remove yourself from the feared situation you feel better and less afraid. But, avoidance tends to make your fear stronger in the long term, because it prevents you from learning new information (e.g. not all dogs are dangerous). Also, if you avoid something once, you are telling yourself that it is dangerous situation and should be avoided, so you are probably going to keep avoiding it every time. The fear can worsen very rapidly as a result. This is why phobias can be such a big problem. To overcome your phobia, you need to face your fears rather than avoid them.

My Anxiety Plan for Specific Phobia

For your Specific Phobia MAP click here.

Specific Phobia Video


Eric describes himself as "scared to death of flying," a fear that has gotten worse over the last few years. When he is on a plane, he feels trapped, and panicky. His heart races and his throat feels tight. He also sweats excessively. The worst part for Eric is when the plane starts to take off; the shaking of the plane makes him convinced that it is going to crash. He is especially afraid of smaller planes, and when the weather is bad during a flight. He used to start dreading a plane trip a few months before he was due to take one. Now, he won't fly at all. He thinks that his anxiety has become overwhelming and that he will freak out and have a panic attack on the plane.
When Eric considers employment opportunities, one of the first things he thinks about is whether the job would involve flying. He won't even apply for the job if he thinks there is a chance that he will have to travel anywhere by plane. He has also missed several important events, such as his sister's wedding in France. Eric knows his fear of flying is an irrational fear, but he can't seem to overcome it.
Karen has a dog phobia that dates back to when she was bitten as a child by a neighbour's dog. Since that time, she has avoided anything to do with dogs, including looking at pictures of dogs, and being around real dogs or places where dogs might be (e.g., local parks). She believes that dogs are very dangerous, and is afraid that if she gets near one it will bite her and that she will be seriously injured. She insisted that her husband give away his own dog before they were married, which created a great deal of tension in their relationship. She is often afraid to walk around her neighbourhood and is unable to walk her children to school, even though it is only a few blocks away. If there is a dog tied up by a store she will not be able to enter the store, which often interferes with her ability to shop and run errands. She often has nightmares about dogs, causing sleep problems. In the past, she has been unable to get out of her car while a dog and owner walked by, and at least three times this situation has triggered a full panic attack.
Karen is aware that her fear of dogs is excessive compared to other people. However, she cannot manage her extreme fear or her urges to avoid or escape anything related to dogs. Her fear of dogs has become a big problem for her and her family, and it prevents her from moving freely and comfortably outside of her home.